As the COVID crisis continues to hit the publicly-funded barristers in multiple jurisdictions, a UK survey has shown that almost 30 per cent may not renew their practising certificates next year.
Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, told the Bar Standards Board that 29 per cent of legal aid practitioners and 38 per cent of criminal lawyers are uncertain whether they will renew their practising certificate in 2021.
Fee income for the group has fallen by an average of almost 60 per cent across the board, including privately funded work, she said. Legal aid cuts have created turmoil at the public-funded bar for some time, now the woes provided by the pandemic have added to them.
Pinto described the news as ‘devastating’ and criticised the Treasury’s lack of support for the self-employed bar. ‘What we are finding is that there’s no real drive to rescue people at this point. I genuinely thought we were going to get at least the young practitioners supported. That was a really shocking failure.’
According to Pinto, the Ministry of Justice’s modelling is based on the assumption that social distancing will have ceased by May 2021. ‘I have no idea what they are basing that on. As far as I know nobody knows when social distancing will disappear,’ she said.
Bar Council chief executive Malcom Cree said the representative body is to take out a £5m loan as part of the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to combat cash flow issues.
‘I’m afraid next year the finances are going to be my major concern,’ Cree told the BSB, predicting that bar income will fall ‘very, very substantially’ across the board.